I haven’t had much time to blog lately. Most of my waking hours are split between running around after a nine-and-a-half month old and learning Mandarin. The good news is I can now say “I am a woman” and “that is an apple” in Mandarin. I’m also getting a pretty good daily workout with all the chasing, scooping and picking up.
It’s a good thing, too, that Baby Girl is keeping me on my toes–especially on days like today when I was supposed to go with a friend to Mommycise class but forgot to get the car seat out of Matt’s and my car. I was so disappointed we couldn’t go on our outing that I had to drown my sorrows in something utterly American.
Yes, I succumbed to the hype and walked Baby Girl to Starbucks for the limited-time Unicorn Frappuccino. Search the internet for news on the drink and there are all sorts of reactions, ranging those casting shade on those (like me) buying into the hype and those who are stoked to try the whimsical creation.
It may be a bit silly for a mom in her mid-thirties to add a reminder to her calendar go in hunt of such a childlike beverage, but on a dreary day in South Florida and in uncertain times maybe a little bit of sugar fun and magic is what we all need. 🦄
P.S. I really enjoyed the drink. Normally I’m not one for sugary beverages, but the cream and sour syrup and sprinkles tempered the sweetness. It was like a liquid sweeTART. Perfect aperitif for happy hour later!
Mexico City, like much of the country, is a place of great contrasts: lavish wealth and devastating poverty; clear-day mountain views and thick, obscuring smog; inexpensive and hearty street food and pricey, avant-garde fare.
It was the contrast in food we were after on one of the days we spent in Mexico City in December—December 12 to be exact. Matt’s and my second wedding anniversary.
As a surprise to Matt, I booked us a street food tour with Eat Mexico. We’ve done food tours in several different cities, including Barcelona and San Sebastian, and find them a great way to see the city and learn more about the local culture. After all, food is one of the best windows into a country and its people.
The Eat Mexico tour didn’t disappoint. I have to give a shout out to them for great customer service. Since we were traveling with our five-month-old, I needed to find a tour that was baby and stroller friendly. Christine at Eat Mexico contacted me personally to help me make my decision and sent several follow ups to make sure we were all set before it started. I opted to purchase the Eat Mexico cookbook (by Lesley Tellez. Check out my Instagram feed for the recipes we’ve already tried) cookbook and we absolutely love it! Christine had it delivered to our hotel so we could pick it up on arrival.
The morning of our tour, we met our guide Ubish Yaren, near the iconic Angel of Independence. Ubish is a chef and expert on Mexico City. As luck would have it, we were the only ones who booked the street food experience that day, so we got a personalized tour.
We started at a tamale stand near the U.S. embassy, but it had been a busy morning, so the tamales were unfortunately already sold out. Though a bit disappointing, we forged on and made our way to the Mercado Cuauhtémoc, where we tried fresh-pressed tortillas and chicharrón (pork skins), as well as admired the beautiful piñatas and the yellow, marigold-fed chicken.
Our next stop were stalls serving fresh juice and tlacoyos and quesadillas (which are totally different from the quesadillas typically served in the U.S.). We tried our tlacoyo (a thicker tortilla stuffed with beans and other toppings) with nopal and cheese. Our quesadilla we had filled with cheese and chicken. We washed those down with smoothie-like juices.
Next up were tacos de canasta (or “sweaty tacos”). These pre-made tacos are kept warm in large baskets where they pretty much steam themselves until they are served. They were soft, savory and delicious!
It was a good thing we ate a really light breakfast, because we continued our journey to a stall selling pork carnitas. Here you can pick your own cuts of pig (everything from the belly and intestines to ear and snout) and the vendor chops it up on a rounded, wooden block and plops it into a double-layered tortilla. From there you can top it with a variety of salsas, onions, limes and pickled jalapenos and carrots. We tried several cuts, including belly, shoulder and ear. The ear was not for the faint of stomach; the cartilage was crunchy and a few pieces had bits of pig hair sticking out. Still, the carnitas were quite delicious.
Next up, we cleansed our palates with chopped fruit sprinkled with chili and lime. In Mexico, chili is a topping for nearly everything. Though we aren’t used to adding chili to fruit, the contrast of the spicy and sweet was surprisingly pleasant.
Though we probably should have been getting pretty full at this point, we were still hanging in there. As food tour veterans, we know the secret to lasting is a pair of comfortable shoes and starting with an empty stomach.
Our tour continued at a burrito stand where we shared a large tortilla stuffed with squash blossom flowers and cheese and (here’s the best part) sealed with grilled cheese. I don’t think I can ever eat a burrito again without it being sealed with cheese. I seriously don’t know how this hasn’t caught on in the U.S. yet (though I suppose it’s a little like the “new” raclette craze in the States).
Admittedly, the burrito was pretty close to topping us off, but we still had a few stops to go. We followed the burrito up with coffee and churros, then made our way to a stand selling shrimp and avocado tostadas. I only managed a couple bites of the tostada, though it was pretty good.
Finally, we wrapped up the tour at a store selling traditional, Mexican sweets. The candies in Mexico are pretty different from what we were used to eating in the U.S. and Europe. Many of these were made with sugared fruit and even vegetable pastes (such as sweet potato). We picked out two candies and decided to save them for later because we had finally hit our food limit.
Sugared sweet potato
After saying farewell to Ubish, we took a long stroll back to our hotel hoping to digest our food before a special anniversary dinner at Limosneros. This highly rated restaurant serves creative twists on traditional Mexican dishes in a hip and romantic atmosphere.
Dim lighting bouncing off of stone walls set the scene for our anniversary dinner. We opted for a tasting menu and wine paring, though there were plenty of dishes offered à la carte.
Our first course was an ant egg tortilla stuffed with mushrooms and swimming in an ant mole. This is the first time I’ve knowingly eaten insects, so was surprised how much I enjoyed the tortilla, mole and even the crispy bits of ant garnishing the plate.
The tortilla was followed by an incredible shrimp pozole. Squash blossom flowers floated in a delightfully savory shrimp broth.
Next, we enjoyed steamed sea bass with a green bean mole. The fish was light and tender and was perfectly complemented by the small green salad on the side.
Cuts of wagyu beef with a potato terrine and amaranth “pico de gallo” were served next. Matt’s beef was a little overcooked, but mine was perfect.
Our fourth course was a lamb T-bone crusted in pasilla chili and paired with prickly pear salad and guacamole.
Finally, we ended our meal with pears and apples and, because I was really craving chocolate, we ordered a second dessert—a chocolate financier complemented with cardamom and cocoa ice cream.
Luckily, because we were operating on our baby’s schedule, our dinner was early enough that we had time to digest all of that food before going to bed. Admittedly, we ended our day sharing glasses of champagne on the bathroom floor after Baby Girl was tucked in for the night. We reminisced about another incredible year of marriage and the wonderful day we had experiencing the variety and contrast of food in Mexico City. Provecho!
2017 came to Monterrey with a bang. Well lots of bangs, actually. Since about December 12 (the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and arguably the beginning of holiday celebrations in Mexico), the sound of fireworks has filled the air all day long. Yep, even in the blazing sun, the telltale bang and corresponding puff of smoke has served as a reminder that it’s CHRISTMAS!!!
It’s not surprising, then, that the grand finale of this nearly month long display, so to speak, was New Year’s Eve. All day and through the night, the sound of explosions reverberated off the mountains surrounding Monterrey. At midnight, we were able to enjoy a free show looking out our windows because every direction in which we looked, we could see blasts of color fill the skies. This continued well into the wee-hours of the morning as each time zone celebrated the ringing in of the New Year.
So here we are in a fresh new year with lots of unknowns. How many times will we move? What countries will we live in? What new languages will we learn? When will Baby Girl learn to nap?
Before looking forward, however, I thought I’d take a look back at 2016. The other night, Matt and I scrolled through our pictures and were amazed at just how much we’ve experienced. So here’s a little glimpse into our past year.
We started the year living in Toulouse, France before getting a last-minute directive to move to Frankfurt, Germany. We lived there for about two and a half months before moving back to France. We stayed there until the last day of August when we packed up and moved to Monterrey, Mexico. Whew!
The Life Changes
When we rang in 2016, I was about 13 weeks pregnant. Fast forward to July 4th and we became parents of the most amazing baby girl. Life is certainly different, but we’re enjoying every moment (yes, even those 3 a.m. moments when we’re trying to get a wide-awake little girl back to sleep—at least we are sneaking in some extra snuggles). We can’t wait to witness all the things Baby Girl is going to learn this year—and all the things she is going to teach us as well.
2016 certainly sent us on a roller coaster of emotions. We experienced the incredible high of welcoming our baby girl into the world as well as the heartbreak of losing my dad to cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and wonder what kind of grandpa he would have been to our little girl. I try to take comfort in knowing that we’ve got an extra lobbyist in Heaven keeping things organized and making sure God is watching out for us.
We were so lucky to be able to visit so many incredible places over the past year. From two of the smallest countries in the world (Luxembourg and Lichtenstein) to the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls. We also went to Zurich (Switzerland) Cologne (Germany), Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) and a number of places in France, including Paris, Bordeaux, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Marseilles, Provence and the Loire Valley.
From staying in a chateau in the Loire Valley and tasting wine in Bordeaux to eating Fondue in Switzerland and ant mole in Mexico City (story to come), we’ve been blessed to have so many cool experiences over the past year. Hiking down into the caverns of the Gouffre de Padirac and winding our way along the city walls in Luxembourg are two highlights early in the year. The end of the year is marked by a visit to the Monarch butterfly sanctuary north of Mexico City (stay tuned for pics and tales from that adventure!) and working our way from food stand to food stand in Mexico City.
2016 was full of its ups and downs, joys and challenges, but we were blessed to see and experience so much. We’re excited to see what the New Year will bring. Happy 2017 everyone! Wishing you all much joy, love and health in the New Year.
We’ve officially been living in Frankfurt for one week. It’s been a fairly easy transition coming from France, though I realize living in Toulouse for nine months made us pick up some new habits we definitely didn’t have in the U.S.–like shopping almost daily.
In Toulouse I’d grocery shop for one to two days’ worth of food at a time. This was partially because our refrigerator was so small and partially because the food there was extremely fresh and lacked the magical “staying power” of most foods in the U.S. In Atlanta, we typically did one big grocery shop per week and supplemented with maybe one or two small runs to the store during the week.
Now that we are in Germany, we have a bigger refrigerator and we shop at a grocery store. There are a couple of weekly farmers markets in Frankfurt, but we haven’t made it out to one of them yet. Still, I find myself running to the store on a daily basis to pick up dinner for that evening and lunch for the next day. I’m curious to see what other international habits we’ll have picked up on by the time we settle back down in a few years’ time.
Speaking of food, on Saturday night we were treated to a uniquely Frankfurt dinner by a wonderful couple from the area. I’d met Eva a few years prior at a company event in St. Louis and we stayed in touch on Facebook. She kindly reached out to me when she found out we moved to Frankfurt and offered to take Matt and me to dinner with her and her husband, Patrik.
We met them at Fichtekraenzi, a traditional Apfelwein (or cider) house in the Sachsenhausen area of Frankfurt. While much of Germany is known for its wine or beer, the Frankfurt area is known for its fermented apple juice.
The restaurant was packed when we arrived, so we bellied up to the bar and Eva ordered a Bembel (a salt-glazed stoneware pitcher) of Apfelwein for her, Patrik and Matt. I settled for a glass of Apfelsaft (apple juice).
There are multiple ways to enjoy Apfelwein (which I was told can get a little tart). You can add a little sparkling water (Mineralwasser mit Kohlensäure) or even lemon soda or sprite. In the winter (or when you aren’t feeling well) you can heat it with a cinnamon stick, cloves and even a slice of lemon.
Before taking a sip, we made a proper German toast; we exclaimed Prost and clinked our glasses while (and this is very important) keeping eye contact with each person as we knocked glasses. Rumor has it, if you fail to keep eye contact you will have bad sex. None of us wanted to put that rumor to test.
Shortly after our toast, spots opened up at one of the long wooden tables. Unlike many American (or even French) restaurants, here you can often find yourself sharing a table with complete strangers. Those unaccustomed to this tradition might think it strange, but it actually made the restaurant feel even more warm and welcoming (and made it easier to see what the locals were ordering).
We ordered our food based on recommendations from Eva and Patrik. We started out sharing Handkäse mit Musik (or hand cheese with music). Though the name might sound a bit off-putting, don’t worry—it’s not made from hands. It simply refers to the traditional way of producing it: forming it with, well, one’s own hands.
I love Handkäse. I discovered it on our first trip to Frankfurt and immediately fell in love with its tangy flavor that perfectly complements the bread and onions (which make up the “mit musik” as in “Die Musik kommt später” or “the music [flatulence] comes later”) with which it’s typically served. It’s a small, yellow cheese with a pungent aroma that is surprisingly low in fat but high in protein (even the German health magazine I picked up recommended it as a good food for helping lose weight). Caraway seeds are often served as an optional topping. If you don’t want to look like a tourist while eating it, always cut and spread the cheese on your bread with a knife—not a fork.
We also shared a dish of Sachsenhäuser Schneegestöber (or creamed cheese). This, too, we spread on bread and the herbs mixed in gave it almost a sour cream and onion flavor. Absolutely delightful!
For the main course, I opted to go with a local favorite: Frankfurter Schnitzel mit grüner Sauce und Bratkartoffeln (breaded, fried meat with green sauce and fried potatoes). The schnitzel was lightly breaded and delightfully crunchy on the outside while tender on the inside. The potatoes were equally delicious—lightly fried and seasoned. The green sauce. Oh the green sauce! This condiment, which reminds me of a creamy pesto, is unique to Frankfurt (you can read more about it here). If you come to Frankfurt you must, must, must try the green sauce.
Matt ordered another local favorite: Leiterchen gegrillt mit Sauerkraut und Brot (grilled spare ribs with sauerkraut and bread). It came perfectly cooked and seasoned; so tender it took only a few chews to tear through a bite.
After dinner, Matt and Eva enjoyed a Calvados mit Mispel (apple brandy with a fruit called medlar which is kind of a cross between an apple and a peach). As in France, there was no pressure to get us out the door, so we were able to sit and talk well after our meal was finished.
It was wonderful to spend our first Saturday night with a couple local to the area. They gave us some great ideas on things to do while we’re here in Frankfurt, so hopefully we can fit in some of those adventures in the next few weeks and then I can share the stories with you.
This past Thursday was Thanksgiving in the U.S., but for the first time in our lives we spent it in another country. Since it’s obviously not a holiday in France, Matt unfortunately had to go into work. However, as he was working the late shift that day, we managed throw together a little festive lunch (turkey breast, potatoes, veggies and French bread) and watch a Christmas movie after we ate (Christmas with the Kranks).
As Matt got ready to go to work, I decided to see if I could stream the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a tradition of mine to watch it on Thanksgiving as I start prepping dinner (a tradition that started when I was a child). Thanks to Unlocator and NBC.com/Live, I was able to stream it! So, instead of going to the gym, I watched the parade and made mini chocolate chip pumpkin muffins and prepped our pie dough to make mini pies on Friday.
On Saturday, Matt had to work again so I did the shopping for our meal after he left for work. I picked up a couple of rotisserie chickens and some potatoes from our chicken guy (no turkey unfortunately). There are many places to get rotisserie chicken in Toulouse, but we always go to our guy at the vegetable market on Boulevard de Strasburg. He is the last rotisserie stand on the right as you walk through the market. His chickens are perfectly cooked and seasoned and his potatoes are divine!
I also grabbed a couple of baguettes (what dinner party in France is complete without a baguette?), a block of Emmental cheese and some haricots verts. Shopping complete, I went home to finish cleaning up and prep for our party.
Our guests arrived close to 7:00 and the evening was a lot of fun. Our friend from Indonesia brought an amazing chicken soup (that I have to get the recipe for) and many bottles of red wine were cracked open. We represented four nations (Indonesia, China, UK and the U.S.) and for some, it was their first Thanksgiving.
Dinner was delicious and the company was wonderful.
Haricots verts and cranberries
Roasted Brussels sprouts
We followed it up with mini pumpkin and apple pies baked in our mini cupcake maker (not having an oven, we’ve gotten pretty creative with our cupcake maker). Everyone left full and a few (not to name names) may have had a sore head in the morning from the wine.
Our first Thanksgiving overseas was very different than ever before. We definitely had some moments of homesickness and nostalgia throughout the day, but we are thankful we had each other and friends willing to celebrate with us over the weekend.
Fortunately Matt didn’t have to go in to work on Sunday, so we spent the day watching Christmas movies and decorating a gingerbread house.
We also took a quick look around the Toulouse Christmas market, which is now open. It is AMAZING! I don’t know why there aren’t more month-long Christmas markets in the U.S. I’ll get some pictures of it and write about it soon.
It’s been a whirlwind week and a half and, because of that, I’ve fallen a bit behind on my blogging. Let me start at the beginning—two weekends ago. Matt was supposed to work that weekend, so we didn’t really make any plans. Friday night, however, he came home with great news—he was off for the next two days and Monday was his day to work the late shift, so we had a bit of extra time on the backend.
We decided it would be great to have one last beach weekend and researched where we might go. We settled on Narbonne (a town off the Mediterranean coast in south France), but when we woke up on Saturday, a different idea popped into our heads: Barcelona.
We first went to Barcelona in 2013. It was the departure point for our Mediterranean cruise and we booked an extra night there on the backend of the trip to explore. Barcelona is a very large and beautiful city and we immediately fell in love with it. Unfortunately one day isn’t nearly enough to see everything, so we promised we would go back someday.
Well, someday turned out to be that Saturday. We did some quick last minute planning and booked both a hotel and a food tour, then packed our bags and headed south to Spain.
We were fortunate on our drive and didn’t hit any traffic, so we made it to the city in about four hours. Our initial plan was to walk from our hotel to Sagrada Família and tour the inside as we didn’t have a chance to last time. So after checking in at the H10 Universitat (and downing a quick “welcome” glass of Cava), we made our way to the basilica—sweating profusely in the late August heat.
That plan turned out to be not so well thought through. By the time we got there, most of the tickets were sold out and the only ones left were too late (our food tour was booked for later that evening). So we hopped the train down to the beach to regroup over a cocktail and snack. The combination of the sand and surf, plus the adult beverage helped cool us down and think more clearly and we opted to book tickets for Sagrada Família for the next day.
We still had a food tour ahead of us, so after the cocktails we headed back to our hotel to clean up. We’d read there was a rooftop bar at the H10 Universitat, so we headed up there for one more quick cocktail before heading out to meet our tour group.
We booked our tapas tour through the Food Lover Tour, which came highly recommended on TripAdvisor. Our pintxos tour in San Sebastian set a high bar, so we hoped this one wouldn’t disappoint.
Our starting point was Casa Milà (also known as “La Pedrera” which means the stone quarry). This building was constructed between 1906 and 1912 by Antoni Gaudi. In typical Gaudi style, the building was designed in a unique and fantastical fashion that would likely be approved by Willy Wonka himself. It is an UNESCO Cultural World Heritage site and you can read about its interesting history on the building’s website.
Our tour guide, Josh, was friendly, funny and very knowledgeable about the city. As we walked he told us stories and explained why the city was designed the way it was. We were visiting bars in the Eixample district of Barcelona. This area was built with wide avenues, large blocks and buildings that conform to a grid pattern.
Our first stop was for seafood tapas at La Bodegueta Provença. We were taken to a long table in the back, where we were poured glasses of white Catalan wine and dined on small plates of anchovies, octopus and fish cakes.
The food was good though, admittedly, the combination of heat and my love/hate relationship with seafood meant I was happy to let everyone around me enjoy the extras.
Towards the end of the first stop, the wine and less empty bellies meant everyone was starting to open up. We learned that in our group, we had three expat couples, one couple from Texas and two guys from Russia. It ended up being a fun little group.
After the seafood was done, we made our way to Colmado—a bar specializing in its own, homemade vermut (a.k.a. vermouth). This bar was cozy (like one we’d be a regular at on Friday nights) and we sat around barrels that had been converted into tables.
Now if you’ve never had vermut (or perhaps didn’t realize you sipped it in your Manhattan), it’s an aromatized wine. Sugar, herbs, roots, flowers and spices are added to give it additional flavor, but the alcohol content is still the same as wine. We enjoyed Colmado’s vermut (which you can only buy there) over ice with a slice of lemon. It was almost like sipping on Christmas.
The food there was equally warm and comforting. We enjoyed roasted artichokes (which are supposed to help your liver counteract alcohol), Manchego cheese, two types of sausages and a thick and hearty meat stew with thick chunks of carrot and potato.
After this food and two rounds of vermut, the group was really starting to warm up and it was time to head to one of the top tapas restaurants in Barcelona—La Taverna del Clinic.
The atmosphere here was much more posh and refined and the service was impeccable. We were sat at a long table in the middle of the front of the restaurant and immediately were poured healthy glasses of a Spanish red wine.
Soon, course after course of food was brought to our table, starting with Spanish ham and tomato bread and moving on to their version of patatas bravas (which are mind blowingly good—and have won major awards), toast with sausage and quail eggs, octopus, pasta, fish with lentils and a beautiful sorbet dessert.
The wine cave at this restaurant was beautiful and stacked floor to ceiling (the ceiling towering at least ten feet above me) with bottles of wine. I was one of the lucky three who got to sneak a peek at this and the restaurant’s pristine kitchen.
Well, after our third meal we were all happily stuffed and ready to make our way back to the hotel to collapse in a food coma, but not before we picked up bottles of vermut to take to France with us. So we said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and Josh walked the few remaining of us back to Colmado where Matt and I stocked up on a couple bottles of their spiced wine.
As I mentioned, the tour in San Sebastian set the bar really high, but this food tour was extremely well done and, if you find yourself in Barcelona, I recommend giving it a try. We did make it to Sagrada Família the next day, but I’ll let you digest the story and photos from this post and save the basilica for a different day.
(Warning: this post may make you very, very hungry.)
When we were getting ready to move to France I had the misconception that portions here would be much smaller than the U.S. (after all, requesting a doggy bag in France is so gauche–at least according to many guide books). Boy was I wrong. Everywhere we’ve eaten, I’ve left feeling like I needed to be rolled out of the restaurant–and most places I haven’t even been able to finish the entire meal!
Let’s start with the goat cheese salad I ordered in Paris. I thought, “well, that sounds light and healthy,” It came out with three, deep-fried logs of goat cheese. I’m not even kidding. I have the picture to prove it (see below). I managed to eat one of the logs and all of the lettuce. I really wanted to eat them all, though. Not quite the light little lunch I had in mind, but they were delicious! Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. The tanginess of the cheese contrasting with the sweet honey drizzled on top. Yum.
Meanwhile, Matt ordered a cheese plate. Based on our experiences with cheese plates in the U.S., we expected a couple of small slices of cheese with maybe some olives and mustard on the side. Nope! The waiter placed in front of Matt a cheese plate that could feed a whole party. Needless to say, we left that restaurant in a bit of a food coma.
Next up, the Croque Madame. Now I don’t know if this sandwich is really supposed to be for breakfast (my bet is no), but after suffering the carb-induced stomachache from the petit déjeuner (which, at many restaurants consists of a croissant, half a baguette, coffee, butter and fresh orange juice), I decided to try my luck with a hot ham and cheese sandwich topped with an egg. In fact, I tried it five times just to be sure.
The Croque Madames I ate all came out huge (including the one in Brugges which looked more like a grilled ham and cheese sandwich you’d find in the U.S.) and all came with a side salad. Yup, I was eating salad for breakfast. That’s healthy, right?
I am not typically a fan of salad dressing. In fact, I’m one of those strange souls who is okay with eating my salad dry (unless there’s some ranch dressing around–in which case, bring it on!). The dressing here, though, is so light, tangy and tastes of Dijon mustard. I love it. It’s my new favorite. Sorry, ranch, but I’d eat this stuff on anything. Then there’s the cassoulet. This is the regional dish for South France, so of course we had to try it. Unfortunately we picked one of the hottest days so far to sample our cassoulet, so we were sweating bullets but all agreed it is a delicious dish (better served on a cold day). Big hunks of pork and duck sausage swim in broth with tender white beans. The top is broiled before served adding a nice crunch to many spoonfuls. But, again, it came out huge! And with a salad! I managed to eat about half before giving up, but I’m definitely going back for more.
Yesterday I discovered the joy of a French tart (quiche). I’ve had (and made) quiches before, but this one was savory, filled with big chunks of curry chicken and topped with slightly crispy artichokes. The massive slice of eggy goodness came out with a heaping side salad covered, once again, in the dressing I’ve grown to love. One of the other ladies ordered a Chinese chicken salad. It came in a huge bowl and was piled high with sprouts, carrots, chicken, tomatoes and cucumbers.
So, I guess I already new this, but the moral of the story is, if you move to or visit France, come hungry! Bon appétit!
This morning we woke up in Toulouse. It’s been a week since we’ve moved to France (though the majority of our time so far was spent on vacation in Paris) and still it’s hard to believe that this is our new home.
We officially embarked for France the last Thursday in May. I spent our final morning in Connecticut packing our remaining belongings, while Matt stopped at the office for a few last-minute meetings. Just before noon he came back to pick me up and we played luggage cart Tetris, squishing all of our bags onto the bellman cart so we could get everything down to the rental car in one trip.
I think we’re starting to become pros at all of this moving around. When we got to the airport, Matt pulled up to the curb in the drop-off lane and we scrambled to shove all the bags right inside the doors of the check-in lobby before we got a ticket for parking in that lane. The one thing I’m not a pro at yet is timing when I need to use the bathroom, so I perched on one of our bags contemplating if there was any way I could get about 300 pounds of luggage across the hall to the nearest bathroom by myself (that, by the way, is not an exaggeration on the weight. I know because I saw the scale for those suckers.).
Our flight was out of Boston at 7:00, so we made sure to arrive in plenty of time for some pre-flight wine and cheese. As a nervous flier, a little liquid courage can go a long way to making the experience a little more relaxed and enjoyable.
While we sat, we discussed our thoughts and emotions on the big day finally being here. Matt admitted he was finally feeling the excitement; leading up to that Friday was such a whirlwind that nothing really sunk in until our bags were packed again and we were headed to the airport. I was excited, of course, and I guess a little nervous realizing it was game time. By the next morning, we would be in France and living there for an, as of yet, undetermined amount of time.
We imbibed and savored our last few hours on U.S. soil before boarding our plane and heading off to our new home. After dinner and drinks were served I fell asleep passed out and in about seven hours was able to look out the window and get a first glimpse of French soil.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
We caught our connecting flight out of Paris to Toulouse without a hiccup and were soon landing in our new city. During our flight, I made my first attempt at conversation in French when I asked our flight attendant for a coffee. I know my accent and pronunciation must have made her cringe, but she was polite enough to not comment on it and kindly handed me my cup of Nescafé. I spent the rest of the flight going back and forth between the French and English articles in the in-flight magazine to see if I could add some new words to my vocabulary (Matt was sitting a few rows behind me and apparently doing the same).
When we got to the airport, we got directions from the rental car desk to find our car. We only wandered into one wrong garage before we found our car and, miraculously, all of our bags fit into it! Then we made the most amazing discovery-Waze works over here! So we were able to use the app to navigate the narrow streets in Toulouse and find our new apartment (or in French, appartement).
We found some parking spaces out in front of our building and, not knowing if we would get a ticket there, lugged all of our bags into a rather small elevator to get to the lobby. There we comically tumbled out, bags and all, like clowns in a car.
In the lobby, we ran into one of Matt’s colleagues and his wife. After some quick introductions and discussions about getting the car parked before we went up to the room, Matt went with his colleague to take the car to the garage and I waited with the woman at the front desk. She explained the hours for the gym (yay, we have a gym!) and laundry room (boo, we have to do our own laundry!) while we waited.
After Matt returned, he signed some paperwork and we got final instructions before dragging our luggage back into the elevator and finally making it to our room. After about 18 hours of traveling, we were finally going to be able to kick our feet up and take in the breathtaking view from our room.
Well, we could kick our feet up after we grabbed some snacks. At this point we were also incredibly hungry, so we took a stroll over the canal to the closest little grocery store and picked up some treats.
We were like kids in a candy shop and I could have bought everything, but Matt kept us on track and, in the end, we stuck with staples of bread and cheese (and a few little treats).
We sampled a small bit of everything (except the shampoo and body wash of course and, surprisingly, the wine) as we made dinner plans with Matt’s colleague and his wife for about 7:00. I’ve learned that 7:00 is the earliest that many restaurants open for dinner. Late meals are certainly going to be something to get used to.
Dinner was at a cute little bistro called Winter Garden. It was tucked down a little alley not far from the capitol building. The server was kind and put up with me practicing my French to order goat cheese-stuffed raviolis and chicken. Matt got duck gizzards and duck breast. All of the food was delicious! We made sure we had room for wine and dessert as well. Matt ordered a pistachio ice cream and I ordered a chocolate mousse cake that was soaking in a vanilla bean custard and topped with fresh whipped cream.
The server kindly gave me a quick French lesson when I tried to order the billet (ticket) instead of check (l’addition). So I added a new phrase to my word bank: L’addition s’il vous plait (the check please).
We took a short stroll through town after dinner to digest our food and made a quick detour for a night cap at a bar called The Classroom. It was a delightful evening, but Matt and I were both fading fast. So we called it a night after the last drink and the four of us made our way back to our apartments. Thus ended our first day in Toulouse and the first day of our new life.
When you think of food in Boston, what comes to mind? Lobster? Chowder? Boston Cream Pie? How about tapas?
The night we arrived in Boston, we went to grab dinner at Toro, a Barcelona-style tapas restaurant located in Boston’s popular South End. The walk from our hotel to this restaurant took us past some gorgeous Victorian brownstone buildings and on to Washington Street. This thriving and hip area, supported by the nationally recognized Washington Gateway Main Streets Program, is home to numerous local businesses and some of Boston’s top restaurants.
Though there were a number of cute bistro tables outside the restaurant, it was a little too chilly to sit outside, so we went in and grabbed a cocktail by the bar while we waited for our table.
I opted for The Interrogation, a delightful mix of vermouth, manzanilla and old-fashioned bitters. Matt stuck with the Jerez Manhattan made with bourbon, sherry, cherry and black walnut bitters.
We didn’t have to wait too long for our table, but I would recommend making a reservation if you go. Every nook and cranny in the restaurant was crammed with tables and they were all full–and a line of people were waiting for their own seats.
Once we took our seats and began looking at the menu, I know my eyes began to grow bigger than my stomach. Everything looked so good!
We decided to start with the Queso Mahon, a delightful marinated cow’s milk cheese that took my breath away when I took my first bite. The grassiness of the cheese contrasted perfectly to the sweet of the tomato jelly and meatiness of the pistachios. We spread it on top of the fresh Spanish bread brought to the table when we sat.
Nest we moved onto the Pan con Tomate, a toasted bread with tomato, garlic, olive oil and sea salt. The fresh tomato hit the tongue almost like a gazpacho, but was quickly followed by the strong bite of garlic and a kick of salt.
Then was the sweet and smoky Escalivada Catalana, a blend of eggplant, onions, peppers and tomatoes that we ate with more of the Spanish bread.
Of course, it was important to get in some greens so we split the Ensalada Cortada, a delightfully light salad with a tangy tahini-miso dressing. After a quick refill of our cocktails, we moved onto the special of the night: a pork and egg paella. The sight and aroma of this dish were incredible and the taste was divine. The pork was tender, the rice al dente (with crispy bits on the bottom where it sizzled in the pan) and the egg infused the dish with a rich creaminess. We practically licked the skillet clean.
Remember how I mentioned earlier that my eyes got a bit bigger than my stomach? Well, I put in an order for the patatas bravas (fried potatoes with alioli and spicy tomato sauce) before the paella arrived. Unfortunately by the time these came out, we were so stuffed we could barely eat a bite or two and had to get them to go.
It was a good thing we were walking because we needed a stroll after dinner to help us start digesting all the great food we’d consumed.
I’m not sure how we could even consider breakfast the next morning, but we knew we’d need nourishment to get us through our whale watch so we stopped off at Flour Bakery + Café on Washington Street for lattes and breakfast sandwiches.
We both got the breakfast egg sandwich with ham, cheddar, arugula, tomato and dijonaise (mine minus the tomato and dijonaise). They were good, though the egg patty was probably the thickest egg patty I’ve ever seen. It was a bit too much egg for me, but fortunately wasn’t rubbery.
We spent the main part of the day enjoying our whale watch and the New England Aquarium (check out that post here if you haven’t read it yet) and working up an appetite for dinner. So, after a day of wandering around Boston, we headed to Little Italy for dinner. We were recommended Giacomo’s Ristorante, but the line was out the door (and they only take cash), so we decided to try our luck at Panza.
The food was respectable, though the service left a bit to be desired. I got the linguine carbonara and Matt the linguini and littleneck clams with fra diavolo sauce. Our appetizer was a burrata with fresh tomatoes from the “specials” list that night.
We had a little time before we needed to get on the road after dinner, so went in search of a cup of espresso and found ourselves at Modern Pastry. The line out the door was so encouraging, so we decided we had to try one of the homemade cannolis.
We took our espressos, cannoli and a mini Boston Cream Pie (picked up on a stroll through Quincy Market a few hours earlier) and found a bench in a nearby park to enjoy our treats and the view of the slowly descending sun.
Hearts happy and tummies full, we headed back to Connecticut and a much needed sleep.